The young man you see in this 1969 miner’s identity photo was a fan of the songs of Simon and Garfunkel, but he disagreed with one of their songs – “I am a Rock.”
That song was a critique of the detachment / avoidance many shy introverted or autistic people practice in order to function in the non-shy world. The narrator of the song says he/she is an ‘island’, happily separate from other people, and adds “I have no use for friendship…..its laughter and its loving I disdain.”
That’s where I broke with Simon and Garfunkel. I’ve never disdained friendship, and I think few shy people do. I envied the laughter and the loving in the social world – although I also saw that much of the friendship was shallow, selfish, and artificial. To me Simon and Garfunkel were putting words in the shy narrator’s mouth that didn’t belong there.
When they added the line, “Don’t speak to me of love, I’ve heard the word before”, I resented that too.
Don’t tell me that shy or autistic people don’t know what love is. I loved my mother, father and three brothers – we were all independent loners, but we loved each other. And, like everyone else in the family, I loved each of our many pets. Though we were reticent about our love, it was always there.
The love of animals is strong in most autistic and shy people. They just have trouble with other people.
But let’s get back to this rejection of detachment. Detachment is a tried and true psychological tool, but in our culture it has developed a bad name. Psychologists don’t like it. We’re supposed to engage with other people now, not keep them at arm’s length.
But in The Shyness Guide, I make the case that detachment is a tool one can use to enter and explore the social world.
Some people just can’t see it. My critics say, “Look at the Incels Conrad. Look at Alek Minassian running down 26 people with a rented van, killing 10 of them right in your own Toronto, 5 minutes walk from where you lived! There’s detachment for you!”
Okay, yes, Minassian did that. Fortunately for me I wasn’t on the sidewalk that day. But hating people is not detaching from them. Hate is a form of attachment. To the violent type of incel (they aren’t all violent) killing people is not detaching from them. It is intruding directly into their lives, a way of accusing them of being the source of your problems.
Many Incels probably felt satisfaction when they watched the 9/11 collapse of the World Trade Center towers. But if so, that was not detachment but hate.
A total lack of empathy can be seen as detachment, but, if so, I think it’s an unconscious all-pervasive detachment. It’s not being used as a tool to solve a psychological problem.
I only fully realized the value of rational detachment about 30 yrs ago when I first listened to Jacob Needleman’s powerful audio recording of the Bhagavad Gita, the 2000 year old Indian epic poem.
In it Prince Arjuna and his chariot driver Krishna (secretly a god, something known only by Arjuna), confront an opposing army led by uncles and cousins of Arjuna. Faced with killing members of his own family, Arjuna declares that he cannot do it.
Krishna tells him that he must do it, then explains how such a thing can be done through detachment and “selfless action”.
What follows is an exploration of the psychology of detachment, and the difference between action and non-action.
Warriors, Krishna explains, don’t detach from everything. They detach only from their own fear and anxiety. They remain focused on the world in front of them. They don’t hate their enemies, because hatred impairs the senses and the intellect.
One can remain detached in any situation – even, for example, in making love. That is, you can still feel love for your partner, and express it, while detaching from your own fear and anxiety.
Yes, I realize that this could mean that the men who flew the 9/11 planes into the twin towers were detached. Maybe. In the same way, the men who flew the World War II bombers that obliterated Hamburg, Berlin, Tokyo and Hiroshima, etc, may have been detached warriors.
But Incels need to learn that they are not in a war. They need to realize that when it comes to human psychology the enemy is often to be found within.
Few of us are talented enough to enter the inner world and sort it out as Krishna proposes, but almost all of us can learn to detach enough from our own anxiety to be able to talk to and engage with other people. Open up to them, using detachment, and you will be surprised how readily some will open up to you.
Easier said than done? Yes, you don’t learn this overnight. The idea of detachment can be acquired in an instant, but it can take many tries to subdue the fear of contact with other people.
Anyway, the sea of humanity has always contained the rocks and islands of shy solitary and/or autistic people. Simon and Garfunkel should apologize to them.